Loneliness is a hard thing to talk about. We all experience break ups, bereavement, illnesses and changes in work or hometown during our lives, and these things can sometimes leave us feeling alone or isolated. And while no one wants to think of themselves as being lonely, it can be hard to bounce back from without the realisation that something is wrong.
If you think that you or a friend are suffering from loneliness, look out for these 6 key signs. If they sound familiar, it might be time to try and tackle the loneliness head-on.
You just can’t get enough [insert commodity here].
Whether it’s shopping or eating, increased consumption has been linked to loneliness. Loneliness can lead to materialism: lonely people are more likely to shop excessively as they use inanimate objects to fill a gap in their lives and time wandering around shops as a distraction. Food is also used as distractions from loneliness and whether you are piling on the pounds or spending all your cash, consuming to excess could be a sign that you’re lonely.
You’re spending too much time in the bath
Strange as it may sound, research has found that people who are lonely are more likely to take long, hot showers or baths than non-lonely people. The study found that we associate feeling cold with being lonely, while feeling physically warm makes us feel more socially satisfied. Being physically close to other people in social situations makes us warmer, and raising our body temperature by cozying under the duvet or relaxing in a hot bath is a comforting substitute for when there is no-one else around.
You just keep on catching colds
When you are feeling lonely, your body starts to act differently. Your stress levels increase, your body can’t repair itself so quickly and your immune system focuses on fighting off bacteria rather than viruses. This means that lonely people are more likely to catch coughs, colds and sniffles, and they will take longer to recover from them.
You wake up feeling tired
Lonely people are more likely to suffer from ‘sleep fragmentation’ – that is disturbed sleep where you frequently wake up very briefly (“micro-awakenings”) throughout the night. The sleeper doesn’t remember waking up or sleeping badly, and they don’t necessarily sleep for any less time than anybody else. However, they do wake up feeling less rested and more tired in the morning. It is thought that this might be because humans sleep best when they feel safe and comfortable, and as social creatures we feel less secure when we are lonely.
Your friends are lonely, too
Remember, feeling lonely isn’t about not having friends. Even people who have a great social circle and a loving partner can feel socially disconnected and lonely. Research has shown that loneliness is contagious: having a friend who is lonely increases your likelihood of feeling lonely by 52%. It probably works something like this: if your friend is feeling lonely the chances are that they are more distant from you than they normally would be, or they become more short-tempered or grumpy. This in turn makes you feel more distant from them, and less like you can turn to them if you need them. In this way, “Loneliness is both a cause and a consequence of becoming disconnected.”
The smaller things are getting to you
Do you feel like bad things just keep on happening to you, and you don’t know what to do about it? Or that the little things you used to just let go are starting to get you down? Well, it could be due to loneliness. Lonely people are more likely to find social situations stressful, and to spend more time dwelling on their stresses. This increased sense of social pressure can also result in poor social behaviour; for example, saying inappropriate things at dinner parties or finding it hard to make conversation with strangers. This isn’t because lonely people lack social skills – in fact, they are at least as good at knowing how to behave in social situations as non-lonely people. The problem is just overcoming loneliness-induced social anxiety.
So how do you overcome loneliness?
If you recognise these signs in yourself or someone you care for, the chances are that loneliness is to blame. Loneliness is a complex issue which doesn’t just boil down to how many friends you have or how much of each day you spend alone. As we have seen, loneliness can affect our ability and motivation to spend time with others, which can in turn make us feel more lonely. Here are a few tips to help you or the lonely person in your life to overcome their loneliness.
With acceptance comes change
Once a lonely person is able to understand how they are feeling, they can start to challenge those emotions. Clinical Psychologist Dr. Kachorek said “The first step is to recognize that you’re feeling that way and validate that it’s something that most people feel at some point…After identifying it, you want to think about in what ways you’re feeling lonely or out of place. The person has to come to understand more about what [loneliness] means to them and why and how they feel that way. Exploring more about it is actually the best way to make the feeling go away.” Once you understand what is making you feel lonely, and how your loneliness affects your life, you can start to move towards positive change.
Challenge your negative thoughts
When you’re feeling down, it can be easy to see things in a negative light. But often the truth of a situation is much less bleak than you may believe it to be. If you haven’t heard from a friend for a while, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t like you – it could be that they are going through a tough time themselves. When you find yourself thinking negative thoughts, try to consider other more positive explanations and act on these instead.
Use your technology
If the idea of putting yourself into social situations seems impossible, make the most of the tools you already have. Use of media technologies including radio, TV and tablet computers have been found to alleviate loneliness, both through making people feel less alone and by bringing people together. So if you’re feeling alone, try turning on the radio, Skyping a friend or inviting someone over to watch the latest episode of the Great British Bake Off. And if you don’t have the means to get yourself a radio, TV or tablet, apply for one from us here.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If you feel that you are really stuck in a rut and you don’t know how to get out, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You are not as alone as you think you are. Whether it’s a trusted family member, a good friend you have lost touch with or a medical professional, reaching out can be the first step towards feeling better. These people will not consider you a burden, and they will want to help you to feel better.